Will new Chief Construction Officer embrace ICT?

Following the publication in July of the Parliamentary Business & Enterprise Select Committee’s report Construction Matters, the UK government is now consulting industry on its proposals to appoint a Chief Construction Officer, requiring responses by the end of this month.

According to the BERR news release (2 October), this person’s duties could include:

  • Working with OGC and other organisations to promote best practice in construction procurement
  • Acting as the main point of engagement between Government and industry
  • Helping to oversee the implementation of Government policy, such as the Strategy for Sustainable Construction
  • Championing the industry’s image
  • Promoting regulatory consistency across departments
  • Helping to co-ordinate the timing of major public sector construction programmes or projects
  • Promoting innovation in the industry

At the time, I was concerned (see Construction Matters (but ICT doesn’t)), that the role of information and communications technologies (ICT) should not be overlooked in this person’s brief, having highlighted that the Select Committee’s final report barely mentioned ICT despite the efforts of Constructing Excellence to stress its potential value. I also wrote (here) about how limp the Strategy for Sustainable Construction, issued weeks earlier, was in its encouragement of ICT as an enabler of greener construction processes – in marked contrast to the Cabinet Office’s 28-page report Greening Government ICT (PDF), which talked explicitly in positive terms about ‘Thin client’ technologies and other potential ICT contributions.

Internally, UK Government (the construction industry’s biggest single client) has also been looking at improving efficiency through the Gershon Efficiency Programme, and one strand of the latest Operational Efficiency Programme (PDF) is the cross-cutting area of ‘Back office and IT’ (also mentioned in the BERR news release).

Let’s hope that this programme and Greening Government ICT, will both land in the Chief Construction Officer’s in-tray as part of the civil servant’s brief. I hope Constructing Excellence will also lobby further on the role of ICT. It has played a pivotal role in promoting the Construction Commitments, which, among other things, says “IT-based collaborative tools and communication technologies will be exploited”. Constructing Excellence is also developing a maturity assessment measure for integrated collaborative working (remember: Sir John Egan, in Accelerating Change, highlighted the role of ICT, and wanted 50% of projects to be delivered by integrated teams by 2007), and ICT-enabled collaboration is included within its ‘common processes and tools’ variable.

If you look at the Officer’s outlined duties, ICT could play a useful role in several areas. For example:

  • “promote best practice in construction procurement” – think about the efficiency savings that come from automating aspects of tendering, making information available online and reducing production of paperwork.
  • “implementation of Government policy” – from Gershon to Greening Government IT, ICT is now a cross-cutting strand within government and the Strategy for Sustainable Construction, albeit modestly, gives scope for government to encourage better ICT use across the industry at large.
  • “Championing the industry’s image” – Too often described (sometimes unfairly) as ‘technophobic’, the construction industry could at least partly transform its low-tech image by incorporating ICT more effectively into its day-to-day operations. Ditto “Promoting innovation”.

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